The falling of a tree in a forest is meaningless without God – how much more so the falling of a leaf? Without God, death is meaningless. And life, too, must therefore be meaningless.
In such a horrible world, teshuvah would not only be impossible, it would be unnecessary.
Blessedly, such a worldview is not a Jewish worldview. God Himself prompts His nation to remember that when “It shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessings and the curse, which I have set before you and you shall return unto the Lord your God, and you shall obey His voice.”
The Jewish worldview is not nihilistic. There are no meaningless events because God is always present. Meaning and faith are possible. We have transgressed and rebelled. We have been punished. But return is possible. Teshuvah is possible. Our national mourning has a purpose.
With teshuvah and transformation as our goals, how do we go forward in the shadow of Churban? Remembrance turns our thoughts to the past, which only highlights our pain and our terrible loss. Where is our consolation?
Where it has always been and always must be: in God.
Our first and deepest solace resides in the fact that God is. Further, we find meaning in understanding that, like us, God mourns. He too feels bereft of His glory, and He too recognizes that Churban means an obstacle to complete service and a diminution of His splendor on earth.
When we went into exile, He too went into exile – shechinta b’galuta. Every place Jews have been exiled, God is with them.
God grieves and mourns with His people. He proclaims that He is with His children in their distress, lacking and missing their company, having been banished from His table. Which speaks to the heart of teshuvah – man is not alone.
According the R. Hayim of Volozhin, the ultimate reason for man’s prayer is to plead for the removal of the pain and agony caused above when man suffers below. Teshuvah is deeply meaningful because it not only heals us, it heals God as well. For this reason, God refers to every victory and salvation attained by Israel when calling upon Him as “My salvation.”
Is there a clearer statement that Israel’s salvation is His as well? “He will call upon Me and I will answer him. I am with him in distress, I will release him and I will honor him. With long life, I will satisfy him, and I will show him My salvation.”
God is with Israel in her distress.
If you prick us, do we not bleed? Yes. But as we grieve and mourn as a nation, as a people, our wounds our healed, the hurt of our souls is salved, and redemption awaits us. Us. Not just you. Not just me. Us. Together.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing. His “Sometimes You Are What You Wear” was recently republished.